daraknor (daraknor) wrote in newatlantis,

Post to Ishmael Discussion regarding sustainability

Below is a copy of my recent email to a discussion group. They mostly discuss things related to the books by Daniel Quinn, and some intelligent people circulate there. I think it is a group that shares similar goals, although only a small portion of our overall goals.

Here is my somewhat long reply and introduction to a Sustainability Metric.

I have stayed out of this discussion for the most part. I have posted way too much on this before. I would like to jump into the ongoing conversation at this point though.

> > Ugh I don't want that, I prefer the simple lifestyle where we live
> > in accordance to everything around us.
I agree, but we don't know "how" to do that. More on this later.

> **It seems we're pretty much in agreement here, as probably are most
> people in this group. My response to you was mainly about the notion
> that we 'made the wrong choice' as humans awhile ago. I just wanted to
> make the point that humans didn't really know any better...it seems to me.
I also agree here, this group wants to live sustainably. Once again I point out that we don't know how. THe prior choice was wrong, and the choice we are making now *may* be wrong. (In other posts I pointed out how the tribal choice wasn't sustainable either.)

> I agree with you, we made a choice which is proving to be
> disastrous, but I feel that it was pretty unlikely that any
> significant portion of humans, centuries ago, could have forseen the
> consequences.
Once again, agreed. But what is the "sustainable" choice? "How" do we accomplish these things? Quinn pointed at the problem, but he doesn't have a solution. We may not be able to endure the failure point, the point at which the system crumbles to a not working state. We don't even know which system will fail first: Antartic Shelf? Tropical Currents to London? A critical species dropping out of the food chain? Water table in the midwest drying up (scheduled for 2015 last I checked - 8 states no water)

> Contrary to this, today, we should be able to see a
> change is necessary. Thanks to our US/corporate-media, people here are
> probably some of the most ignorant about this, but I still feel
> millions of people are actively looking into this. Is the response an
> adequate one? It doesn't appear to be.
Political leadership hange will be necessary before any real effective change is implemented in the US. Bush didn't sign Kyoto because it would cost 'business' money. Watching LA, SF, Florida, Lousianna, New York and many other areas all sink at the same time sounds expensive too. (London and Paris too - The Louvre and Mona Lisa will be under sea level)

Failures tend to compound and start chain reactions, each reaction compounding with the previous- gaining momentum instead of loosing it - think avalanche.

To avoid failures we need to figure out "How" to avoid the failures. We know that when something fails, it wasn't Sustainable. Are we smart enough to figure out if something is not sustainable before it fails? Apparently not so far. I have checked hundreds of groups. Nobody knows what "sustainable" really IS. They only know "failure = bad" and "sustainable = no failure". That tells us nothing!

How do we have sustainable agriculture? The answers are there, but we don't know how good they are. We know that mulching and not using oil as fertilizer is important, but we don't know how long we can keep any particular path going.

In the open system that is Earth, we may not ever be able to figure that out. I propose that we make small communities designed to be sustainable - In A Measurable Way. Those measurements will allow people outside the communities to choose sustainable living. Or at least - sustainable agriculture and infrastructure. This is a big project, because we don't know how sustainable our plumbing is! It has been argued that Rome's success and downfall was related to plumbing (waste management for larger cities, lead plumbing leading to insanity among the powerful). Do you want your grandchildren to have plumbing? They don't necessarily need strawberries from Australia in the winter, but plumbing is probably important for good health.

So, in the interests of sustainable plumbing, here are a few steps toward a Sustainability Metric e.g. knowing if something is sustainable.

1. Building materials should be made from renewable resources.
2. The installation and repair should be performed with renewable resources.
3. The infracture used to build the materials, installation parts and performance should all be renewable.

Now that doesn't mean that we can keep on doing it forever, that just means that we aren't going to run out of the pieces we use to make it in a one time deal. Glue for example, is not renewable. Most of the plumbing glues are oil based, and no oil means no plumbing glue. Most insulation, binding and wrapping is from oil based products.

So with the current plumbing, we may just run out of parts or glue some day. PVC pipes are also made from oil. Most of these parts cannot be recycled, since the polymers break down and become brittle (they become not plastic).

Steel can be recycled, but it also rusts. This leads us into the next segment. Energy in and energy out. We can recover iron from rust, and turn it back into steel with a lot of energy (also requires some rare metals in the process). The amount of energy needed *vastly* exceeds any sort of reasonable amount. Not to mention the collection of the rust and removing extra particles, etc. There may be some other chemical to add that rips away the oxygen from the iron, but is the production of that other chemical renewable and energy efficient? Usually no. Cheaper yes, renewable, no. Almost all industrial processes involve entropy. Taking something from a high energy state, and putting it into a low energy state. We just gather the stuff in the higher state from nature, and then use and refine it at our leisure.

4. All processes must involve a reproducible amount of energy without undue strain.
5. All processes must be reversible without a reproducible amount of energy.

In my studies regarding solar cells I came up with an interesting fact. One fifth of all energy produced in the United States is used for the production of Ammonia, NH3. Ammonia is then used in hundreds of other processes, from making paper to food, in various forms. (look up the use and production of Nitric Acid for a starting point) The good news is, the production of Ammonia comes from renewable and plentiful resources. More good news is, we have the energy production to do this, and can do so cost effectively. The bad news is, nearly every industrial process we use today would require a similar amount of energy to do so in a sustainable fashion. I'll look up the number later upon request, but I think we're looking at 100-500 TWh of power each year. Something big.

6 Each component must be able to be recycled or reused in some fashion.

If we take things out of the loop, then the loop gets smaller unless we pull more in. If we can't pull more in, we have failure.

7 Every component should be able to be replaced with an alternative.

This is basic "no single point of failure." You could have the most efficient, most recyclable plumbing system on the planet, but if you can't replace a single part when you need to, the whole thing is broken.

There are more pieces to having sustainable plumbing. That is a start. I will stop here for length reasons, and also because number 7 is the first item on this list that American plumbing actually succeeds with. You can go to the store and buy parts. The scary question is: for how long?

Is anyone interested in working with me on this topic? Sustainability metrics, sustainable plumbing, researching sustainable methods, etc.
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